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House - Chapter 24. Driveways And Wall-Papers Post by :stevekiene Category :Nonfictions Author :Eugene Field Date :May 2012 Read :1205

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House - Chapter 24. Driveways And Wall-Papers


Had we been so disposed we could have given the wretched Percival Wax a great deal of trouble. Lawyer Miles was anxious to prosecute the fellow, and I dare say he felt that he had missed the greatest opportunity of his life when Alice and I concluded to let the matter drop. We were moved to this decision by the consideration that, while we owed Percival Wax only our resentment and vengeance, a prosecution of him for his numerous misdemeanors would put us to no end of trouble. The exposure and punishment of vice would doubtless prove much more popular among the virtuous, did not these proceedings involve so great an expenditure both of time and of labor. Alice and I were not long in making up our minds that we had plenty of other unavoidable troubles to engage our attention; so we let the tramp go, but not, however, until I had lectured him seriously upon the propriety of his abandoning his evil ways and until Alice had given him a clean shirt and an old pair of shoes with which to start out afresh upon the pathway of reform, which he solemnly promised to follow.

If you have ever passed the old Schmittheimer place--and doubtless you have, for it is the pride and ornament of a most aristocratic section--you must have noticed the roadway that leads from the street to the residence that looms up majestically two hundred feet back from the street. Perhaps you have wondered why grounds in other respects so attractive should be defaced by a feature so unsightly and so impracticable as this identical roadway.

And yet, as I told Alice, this roadway was actually the most natural feature of the place; there was absolutely no touch of artificiality about it; it was originally a stretch of sand, and such it had remained from time immemorial, by which I mean from that remote date--presumably eighteen centuries ago--when the receding waters of Lake Michigan left the spot subsequently to be known as the old Schmittheimer place high and dry in section 5, range 16, township 3. The genius of man had wrought wondrous and beautiful changes elsewhere, converting marshes into boulevards and transforming sandy wastes into blooming gardens; but never had it expended a touch or a thought upon that bald prehistoric streak which served as a driveway for all vehicles that dared invade the old Schmittheimer place.

How many vehicles had in the lapse of years been hopelessly maimed or totally wrecked while trying to traverse that roadway I shall not presume to say, for as a man of science I glory in exactness and I eschew surmise. This much I know, for I have seen it time and again during the last four months: nothing that moves on wheels has ventured upon that roadway that it did not sink slowly but surely up to the hubs of its wheels in the unresisting sand. The Pusheck grocery cart broke a spring the first time it drove in, and the wagon that hauled the steam fixtures was stalled for three hours in one of those treacherous depressions in which the roadway abounds, depressions which, as I am told, are known to dwellers in hilly country places as "thank-ye-marms."

Until I became acquainted with this particular roadway I never fully comprehended the nicety and the force of the phrase "to drive in." I had heard people say that they had driven into such and such places, and I had wondered why they employed this figure of speech when, it seemed to me, it would have been more exact to say that they entered upon or drove over. But I know now that it is no figure of speech when one says that he drives into the old Schmittheimer place. No other phrase could more exactly express an actuality.

If we were going to retain the driveway in all its unhampered prehistoric simplicity, just as the glacial period found and left it, it would really be the proper thing for us to found and to maintain a rescue station in its vicinity, for we have been called upon to hasten to the relief of every vehicle that has "driven into" the premises since we took possession. And a very serious theological aspect of this matter is had in a consideration of the fact that this prehistoric driveway not only breaks spokes and tires and hubs and springs, but also incites human beings to break the third commandment. I have overheard the young man who drives Pusheck's grocery cart indulging in expletives which I am sure he never learned as a member of Alice's Bible class.

So, taking one consideration with another, Alice and I determined to have a new road. Undoubtedly this was a wise determination; if we had gone ahead from that wise beginning and built the road as we had planned, all would have been well. The serious error we made was in seeking the counsel of our neighbors--the very same error we have made and kept on making over and over again ever since we entered upon this scheme of the new house.

I take it for granted that you know as well as I do that when it comes to roads, there are as many different kinds of roads as there are planetoids in the solar system. Furthermore, paradoxical as it may appear, each of these different kinds is better than any of these others, for each possesses not only all the advantages of the others, but also certain distinct and paramount advantages of its own. Alice and I had decided upon a dirt road, because we believed that a dirt road would conform in appearance to the other rustic and farmlike features of the place, and because we fancied that a dirt road could be constructed cheaply.

I use the term "dirt road" under protest. I am aware that what is called a dirt road is, properly speaking, an earth road. Dirt is filth, but earth is not; so when we call an earth road a dirt road we commit a vulgar error by employing a wrong epithet. All this I know, and yet, conforming to a custom, because it is a custom followed by all except a smattering of purists, I humiliate my sense of integrity, and I prostitute the virtue of my native speech.

In an unguarded moment, as I have intimated, we confided to our neighbors the precious secret that the stretch of sand from our front gate to our backyard was to make way for a modern, safe, and comfortable driveway. Immediately we were overwhelmed with suggestions and advice as to the particular kind of driveway we really ought to have. You may have noticed that whenever a friend (a dear, good friend) advises, he or she invariably tells you what you really _ought to have--putting much emphasis on the "ought." This clinches and rivets the advice. When one says to you that you really ought to have such or such a thing, he means, of course, that you would have it if you were not either too poor or too stupid (or both) to get it. Alice and I are poor in purse, but I deny that we are idiots.

Not to consume your time with further discourse upon this subject (although I will concede that it has its fascinations and its importance), I will say that the primitive roadway (illustrative of the pre-glacial period) still winds its Saharan course through our premises. For Alice and I are undetermined whether to follow our own instincts and have a dirt road (there it is again!) or whether to concede to neighborly influence in the matter of this driveway, just as we have conceded upon nearly every other detail that has come up for consideration within the last four months. I dare say we shall eventually come back to our original plan, for it is already as clear as the noonday sun that if we adopt the suggestion of any one neighbor we shall have all the rest of our neighbors down on us for the rest of our lives.

We had an unpleasant experience of this character in the matter of wall-paper. It seems that Alice and Adah consulted all the women-folks in their acquaintance, and after much agitation made such selections of wall-paper as they believed would serve as a felicitous compromise between all parties consulted and all tastes expressed. The result is that nobody is suited--nobody but me. As for me, I am too much of a philosopher and too busy with my philosophy to spend any time worrying about the color or the pattern of the paper on the walls. If the paper is not so prepossessing as it might be, I should be glad that it is upon my walls rather than upon the walls of those whom it would vex much more than it does me.

I do not mind telling you that my favorite color in wall-paper (as well as in everything else) is red, and it was a delicate concession upon Alice's part to cover the walls of my study over the kitchen with paper of undeniably red hue, upon which appear tracings of yellowish white in a pattern particularly pleasing to my uneducated eye. Little Josephine's room (which is shared by Alice's sister Adah) is decorated with wall-paper in which red is also the predominant color. The pattern is of bunches of roses in full bloom, and these counterfeit presentments are so true to the life that when little Josephine first entered the apartment she reached out her tiny hands in rapture and sought to pluck the beautiful flowers. Adah, too, is delighted with this floral design; the rose is her favorite flower, and by a charming coincidence it happens to be also the favorite flower of Adah's friend Maria--of course you remember Maria; married Johnnie Richardson, and lives at St. Joe, Missouri. So, you see, there are several tender sentiments attaching Adah to that rose-bedecked apartment.

And yet (will you believe it?) there are those who do not at all approve of the wall-paper in which I and little Josephine and Adah (to say nothing of Maria) take so great delight. Some of these people have been ill-mannered enough to laugh aloud and long when they beheld the impassioned hue of the covering of the walls in my study! There was one person (I forbear mention of her name) who seriously said she thought we 'd be afraid to let little Josephine sleep in that rose-garlanded room; that the glaring colors would be likely to give the dear child the "willies." I do not know what the "willies" are, but I do know that little Josephine sleeps well, eats well, and is happy, and this is all that we could hope for in one of her tender years.

Now while I cannot do otherwise than defend the choices in wall-papers which Alice and Adah have made, I distinctly recognize and I regret two very unpleasant facts: first, that by not complying with their advice upon the subject we have grievously offended a number of our neighbors, and, second, that Alice and Adah are prepared to set down in the list of their active and malignant foes every woman who presumes to disparage either by word or by look the wall-paper they have picked out as most pleasing to their tastes.

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